The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that missionaries who came back home several weeks ago and self-isolated for the prescribed two weeks are now being assigned to new missions — perhaps temporarily until they are able to return to their original mission assignment. Apparently not many missionaries opted for the option to defer their continued service for a year or so, working or going to school in the meantime. The article also notes that newly called missionaries who have done their MTC training online are also entering the field at various missions.
On the one hand, this seems a little early to start sending missionaries back into the field. I presume that a lot of missionaries in the US will be in their apartments under stay-at-home orders for another month or two. For those who can venture out, I’m not sure a lot of people want to invite visitors into their home at the moment. On the other hand, the Church can’t just freeze the program for twelve months. First, missionaries under a call have to either substantially complete their term of service or get an early release, which is certainly justified under these difficult circumstances but not something most missionaries would choose. Second, there are a few thousand new missionaries entering the pipeline every month. You have to send them somewhere. So the Church doesn’t have good options here. They can’t just call of the 2020 season and shoot for 2021 like many professional sports organizations are doing.
So here is the question for readers: Do you have a missionary in the family and what are they doing at the moment? And what are the missionaries in your ward or stake doing? Missionaries are young, faithful, dedicated, and energetic. They can generally roll with the punches. I’m sure a lot of you have stories from your own missionary days about putting up with ramshackle housing, recurring illness, and bad food. But the current cohort of missionaries is facing unprecedented disruptions. On the practical side, what clever ideas have you seen to support or assist local missionaries who are stuck in their apartment all day?
Just as I did, when I served my mission as a young man, these missionaries take their cue form Slat Lake. All missionaries should be honorably released and the entire program should close for at least 6 months or until further notice depending on how COVID-19 is playing out. There is no good reason to start opening up missions this soon. We seriously need some real leadership at this point.
I’m not sure why the church can’t just freeze the program for a while. Missionaries are no more essential to the function of society than the NBA.
Seems like the program is more important than the missionary. This can damage their good feelings for leadership in the long run when their time as a missionary is delayed assignments , at home mtc and bounced around the US waiting if ever going to their divinely appointed mission. What real kind of effective work will they do until this is all over?
Parents of missionaries have to remember that the welfare of their kid(s) is their responsibility, not the Church’s. And what I am referring to when I say “welfare” is their physical / mental well being as well as their long-term prospects. Parents need to take control of the process instead of sitting back and allowing the Church to dictate the terms (note: I acknowledge that the Church is giving parents options but I don’t think those options are sufficient).
If you believe your missionary son or daughter may be risking his or her health by remaining on a mission, you should bring them home. By physical, I’m referring to Corona Virus risk. By mental, I’m referring to the scenario in which your kid is spinning his wheels for the next 6 months while the world is going by. That can be really detrimental for one’s mental health.
As for their long-term prospects, time is money. Yong people have a lot to do to succeed in life. In my experience, active missionary experience can teach you a lot that enhances your future. In other words, the 18-24 month sacrifice for missionary service can be well worth it in terms of experience gained. But that’s quite different from a scenario in which a kid is sitting on his computer every day contacting people via social media as some missionaries are doing. If I had a kid doing this I’d feel like he or she was wasting time.
The LDS culture makes many of us feel that we have a duty to support the Church and its programs no matter what. And many of us older folks can’t imagine even considering leaving our missions early. But we lived in a different world. Parents need to strongly consider taking control of their missionary kids’ options because in many cases the options presented are not in the best interests of these young people and I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of regret.
I think the church is running scared on this. Last week our stake had a Zoom fireside on missionary work, and had 6 recently returned missionaries talk about what a wonderful experience it was to serve a mission, even though it was cut short, and they were cooped up in their house all day!
Our poor sisters here in LA are cooped up in their apt 24/7. Their MP has informed them and the members that he wants them to do at least 3 video discussions a day and we have signups to accomplish that. But 3 or even 10 video discussions a day will still leave huge amounts of time with nothing to do. How long can you read the scriptures? (I’m binging Shtisel on Netflix right now, an Israeli series about life in the ultra orthodox communities, so I guess that answer is that some people can read the scriptures all day every day.) And the MP has informed our SP that he expects 40-50 new missionaries to be arriving soon. I truly feel sorry for all of them.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Vishnu, I agree but think the leadership wants missionaries to have a chance to substantially complete their term of service so they get the good feels for “completing” a mission as opposed to the bad feels for doing half a mission, however justified under the circumstances. But as you outline, with truncated opportunities to actually get out, contact, and teach, I don’t know how this will balance out in the experience of the missionaries, though.
joshua h, I agree that missionaries (who are, after all, adults) and their parents have to think more seriously about the consequences of the choices and decisions about serving. There is just a lot more in play now than in better times.
Bishop Bill, for several years now the leadership has been fiddling with mission parameters — lowering the age for starting a mission, allowing more phone calls home, and so forth. So they have already been concerned about making missions work better for the missionaries and for program success. But the wholesale changes to the program that are almost certainly going to result from The New Normal (which will be quite different from The Old Normal) represent a much bigger change. I’m not sure they quite grasp the magnitude of change that might be required. Just look at how airlines and public transit and professional sports are struggling to even formulate, much less implement, the big changes that are needed to make those industries viable again.
KLC, thanks for the report. That’s what we’re all worried about I think — missionaries spending months at a time cooped up in an apartment with most “regular” activities (watching Netflix, reading books) off limits. Maybe instead of meals we should be dropping off books and DVDs to keep them from losing it mentally.
amen to Joshua H. I’m realizing that more and more in general.
Most people I know seem to be encouraging their kids to continue and not defer, and kids are continuing to receive mission calls to places they may never actually end up setting foot in. On the one hand – I don’t think Zoom MTC and sitting in a mission apartment all day will make for a good experience. On the other hand – neither is Zoom college and sitting in a family home all day. It’s not like there are a lot of exceptionally better alternatives at the moment.
If I were the parent of a current / soon-to-be missionary, I would of course leave it up to my kid to decide, but I would really try to help them work through whatever social pressure they might feel and make sure they didn’t feel one bit of family pressure. I would try to talk through the pro’s and con’s really objectively. Actually, I plan to do that anyway even if my kids aren’t looking at missionary service in the middle of a pandemic. But especially now.
Based on the reactions to the pandemic in my community in southern California (where we have largely been spared but there is still just so much fear), I honestly do not envision any of my neighbors taking kindly to missionaries knocking on their door for at least one year. Maybe longer. And the image of a missionary in a face mask just doesn’t sit well. Church is probably not happening again in California before at least August (it’s in Phase III; we start step I of Phase II this Friday, and the governor says Phase III is months away).
So if I had a child on a mission, I would encourage them to come home and do their Zoom missionary work with us. If she can’t go outside now, and she won’t be welcome to tract for some time, then she can perform these Zoom meetings anywhere. Might as well come home, save mission money, and be with family. She can still have a companion and do all the companion things via Zoom during the day (companionship study, teaching lessons). I think right now having family and friends around is key to long-term mental health concerns anyway. I recognize the current situation is not a one-size fits all.
Missionary home from Brazil after six months. Reassigned to Salt Lake City starting in two weeks. Locally (Spokane, Wash. Mission) they’ve sent home everyone within 4 months of their release date (about 30 elders). They are expecting to receive within the next two months 100 new missionaries being reassigned from various foreign nations. I don’t know how they’re going to house them, or what they’re going to do all day. We’re not a productive corner of the vineyard, by any stretch of the imagination.
I agree with the commenters above that there would be no harm in cancelling the mission program for 12 months. They did it in WWII, and severely limited service in Vietnam (one elder per ward maximum).
My son is serving stateside. He had been out almost 14 months when the pandemic hit and quarantine began.
He wrestled for awhile but ultimately decided to stay, even knowing the prediction of several months being disrupted. Each phone call we have with him, the frustration is evident.
1.) Facebook “proselyting” is encouraged, though they may only be on for a few minutes a day.
2.) Their mission gave each missionary an assignment to post two videos with specific parameters: missionary must be facing forward with their companion, shoulder to shoulder, no music except a hymn, bear their testimony, and share an uplifting thought.
3.) Do video chat discussions with members.
4.) write a talk (20 min) each week and turn it in to the APs (in addition to the extra study they are already doing)
So essentially; busy work.
My missionary’s biggest struggle right now is that FB feels very inauthentic, they’re instructed to share a testimony rather than doing good in the world and physically helping people. It feels dead to him. Lips drawing near, hearts far away from where they’re needed.
Missionary work needs an overhaul. I’m in favor of sending them back home to their own communities during the pandemic, helping out how they can(grocery delivery? Food bank?) and teaching video discussions in the evening. I think proselytizing missionaries in Sunday best would be looked down upon during a pandemic.
The Other Clark, there were 30 elders within 4 months of their release date? Wow. That just shows how quickly numbers have dropped down after the age change. I served stateside from 2013-2015, and I went home with 30 other missionaries that transfer. Within 3 transfers (give or take 4 months), about 100 missionaries were released.
Those I know are being recalled to quarantine at home for two weeks, then reassigned stateside. I think they might feel a bit cooped up when they get to their new assignments. If they had 6 months or less remaining (I think?) they weren’t being reassigned, just released. I think they should make an early release voluntary for any tenure, but having said that, most would probably still choose to remain in service. I would suggest they do some kind of service project, but what exactly? They could do some contactless meal or PPE delivery as directed I guess. Otherwise, though, what can they even do to help others?
I sat among a group of new missionaries mid-March on a flight from SLC, just as the pandemic lockdowns were kicking in everywhere, but social distancing was still not really in force, and masks were unheard of. These missionaries were chattering and excited to go to their destination, and as I talked to the sister next to me (wearing pants!), I kept asking what they were going to do when they got there? Stay in the apartment? Basically, I think that’s what ended up happening.
Missions can be boring at any time, but during a pandemic? Yeesh.
“the Church can’t just freeze the program for twelve months.” – umm. Yes they could. It may have consequences, but they could shut it down.
I have a missionary out across the pond. I did contact the MP and tell them that if they are asked from above, he has one parent of a missionary in his mission that would prefer the missionaries get sent home. He responded with a very good email back. But I am rather disappointed that other than that email to me personally, there has been no communication from the MP to parents – at least I have not received anything. I find that very disturbing and I am biting my tongue not to call him out. But as far as I can tell my son is having a fun time with some good companions and has been able to do some hiking in the nearby woods regularly and spending more time grilling and cooking. He seems upbeat about the online missionary work, but he has not mentioned anything about results other than having one video lesson taught. If I felt he was in a bad place emotional or at a real risk, I would be pushing much harder.
I can’t imagine getting stuck with a bad companion and being locked down. I wonder if situations like that increase the chances of a short time after they are released that they are more likely to become one of the statistics of “inactive shortly after serving a mission” – or even turning on the church.
If they can’t do something productive, send them all home. I would discourage my children from going on a mission right now.
The leaders were quick to close church down. Good. They seem now to be dithering. The typical right wing member is starting to question social isolation. America is certainly not ready to reduce social isolation. The church could again show decisive leadership, by saying we should still isolate.
There is no liklihood of America being safe this year. There is no liklihood of other countries accepting American missionaries this year. Possibly Brazil with Trump copy leader, but would you want your children there?
Time for decisive leadership, close missionary programme down.
When the American missionaries went home we had female missionaries in our ward. We now have 3 women one from Philippines, one from Thailand, and a black South african, who no one knows, so no interaction/support. It was realised that they do not even have a TV in their flat so couldn’t watch conference. I’m surprised they are not having mental problems. Perhaps they are?
What if BYU (all campuses) and the church collaborated to provide free online college that could satisfy generals at most universities? Acknowledge that this is an unprecedented time, and helping our young people lay a foundation for their future is highly worthwhile,
Education helps in recognizing a comprehensive world view. Teach solid introductory science, social science, math, languages (beyond missionary vocabulary), writing, history, art history, drawing, geography, anthropology, western thought, eastern thought, coding, architectural styles, design, passive solar energy, plumbing, electrical,
One problem with “reading the scriptures all day” is it doesn’t really help with being in the service of our fellow beings. Preparing for meaningful employment that contributes to community does.
The missionaries assigned to my ward are bored out of their minds. They “stalk” members on social media, and ask to do video discussions with members (why?). A couple weeks ago they posted a video of them bearing testimony, but it was completely devoid of enthusiasm and it almost looked like a hostage ransom video. It’s a total waste of everyone’s time (the missionary’s time, their family’s, the Church’s, God’s, mine, etc.) and money to have them out in the field just to do online busywork, They could be doing that at home just as easily, and with fewer restrictions. They should at least be allowed to study secular subjects, maybe take online classes (via Pathways) to knock out some of their college coursework, or learn new skills like coding. If I had any influence over a young prospective missionary right now, I would stridently advise him or her to avoid the voluntary imprisonment of full-time missionary service as presently constituted. There are better ways to use your precious time.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Elisa said, “kids are continuing to receive mission calls to places they may never actually end up setting foot in.” Yes, kinda misleading.
Chadwick said, “I honestly do not envision any of my neighbors taking kindly to missionaries knocking on their door for at least one year. Maybe longer.” This is one of the things that is going to force big changes in the whole program.
The Other Clark said, “Locally (Spokane, Wash. Mission) they’ve sent home everyone within 4 months of their release date (about 30 elders). They are expecting to receive within the next two months 100 new missionaries being reassigned from various foreign nations.” This is going to be a big mess.
Brian G said, “If they can’t do something productive, send them all home.” That makes sense. But more than half the reason the Church encourages missions is to convert the missionary. From the Church’s point of view, it’s worth it even if the missionary does no proselyting. It’s their secret weapon to keep LDS youth active into their young adult years.
Sasso said, “What if BYU (all campuses) and the church collaborated to provide free online college ….” Great idea. I hope they are thinking of this.
Dave B., you’re absolutely right that “[M]ore than half the reason the Church encourages missions is to convert the missionary. From the Church’s point of view, it’s worth it even if the missionary does no proselyting. It’s their secret weapon to keep LDS youth active into their young adult years.”
But I don’t think a mission experience sitting around in an apartment all day will be that converting experience. It may have the opposite effect. They are better off waiting or figuring out a way to create a better experience.
I get the concerns, but it seems you can have missionaries officially assigned and doing nothing on a mission or send them home to do nothing at home. For many of these missionaries, postponing will seriously disrupt life plans, and they have a sincere desire to complete a mission. Given those factors, I don’t think suspending the missionary program is realistic or helpful.
Having said that, I do think that missionaries will likely have to drastically change their day to day routines, and added non-proselytizing service opportunities could help. At this point, the best way to preach the gospel will be in active service to the community and not knocking on doors.
I have a missionary daughter who is still serving. Lots of social media, especially their missionary facebook page according to her. They expect a large influx of missionaries into their stateside mission over the next few weeks. Our ward had been reduced from 3 to 1 missionary (who had a companion covering another ward). This week they both got new companions from overseas missions.
Most members around where I live know others whose churches have reopened or will reopen this week. Many businesses have now reopened. If our ward building stays vacant on Sundays for more than 1 or 2 more weeks, some will wonder why those Mormons have stopped going to church. We could have sacrament meeting with 60-90% of the normal attendance while maintaining proper distancing for each family. The risk, versus the rest of the activities that most members engage in, is low when this is done.
Insisting that our state or county (or nation) stay isolated except for essential services is a completely different question.
I think that Sweden and a few other countries that will reach herd immunity soon, will allow American missionaries back this year.
After hearing of quite a few friends, some members of the church and some not, I do have to wonder if the appeal of being with your family forever is quite a bit less appealing than before. It may not be as attractive of a line to get people interested in the church.
I have a daughter graduating from high school. Two of her classmates have submitted their mission papers and are visibly excited about receiving calls even if their start date ends up being months from now. I also have a missionary working stateside. In his mission, they are also contacting people through Facebook and making videos. Their area had a tornado blow through, so the missionaries have had some opportunities to be of service clearing downed trees. His daily schedule has changed to include a second daily workout and more study time. His mission has opened up a second weekly call home if needed. My missionary had only taken advantage of that once since “calls home” are done over WiFi and the only time he has that is at the church. They have spent time doing some hiking and a local member with a large tract of land invited them over to his pond for some fishing (catch and release). He has told me of missionaries that have been reassigned from other countries and now has a companion that had previously been in a Spanish speaking mission. The companion felt bummed out until they contacted a part member family where the parents only spoke spanish. So my missionary talks to the kids who speak english and his comp talks to the parents. My missionary really doesn’t like the social media contacting. He didn’t like knocking on doors before, but says he would appreciate it now. He has not expressed a desire to come home early but if he did I would support him in such a decision. Honestly, I feel he is safer under quarantine. Before the pandemic hit there were a couple of times he had a gun pulled on him while tracting and other instances where dogs were let loose on them.